Getting Your Confidence Back After a Bad Expereince
We all know that old saying “If you fall off a horse get right back on the horse,” and that’s good advice, but, honestly, getting back on the horse immediately is the easy part. It is a day or two later that things become more difficult, because that is when fear sets in - after you have had some time to think about what happened. There are also times when you aren’t able, physically, to get back on the horse. When you have to wait to recover from an injury it becomes even more difficult to get back in the saddle. After a fall, whether it’s just a minor one or something more serious, fear can take over and become a huge obstacle to overcome when you’re trying to get back to where you were before the incident.
Fear robs you of your confidence, which in turn robs you of enjoying one of your passions in life - your horse. Oftentimes we feel guilty because we don’t want to ride the horse we have enjoyed, trusted and loved to ride so much in the past. We are often embarrassed, as well, not wanting to tell anyone we have lost the confidence to ride because we are afraid that would seem weak or silly to others. Sometimes we begin making excuses not to ride such as “I don’t have the time” or “ I’m too tired today, it was a long day at work” or “The weather is not good for it” and so on. That, in turn, brings more bad feelings - guilt and sadness about not wanting to be with your beloved horse.
When you’re having all these feelings your horse is picking up on them. Horses need a confident leader and when you become nervous or anxious your horse loses confidence in you as a leader and more problems can occur. This becomes a vicious cycle - the more fearful you become the less trust your horse has in you, so basically you are feeding off each others’ fear and lack of confidence.
The most important thing anyone can do is admit their fear to themselves, to their horse and to the people around them. It can be very difficult to admit to a fellow horse person that you have lost your confidence to ride. Some people will understand while others won’t. Friends or riding companions who advise you to “Just get back on that horse and ride,” aren’t helping you, even though they believe they are helping. In some cases taking that advice may make matters worse for you and your horse. The best advice is to find a friend or family member you can confide in and who will help you work through the problem. If possible find a professional riding instructor who has had experience dealing with adult riders with fear issues.
Since you have lost your confidence and your horse has lost his/her confidence in you as a leader you need to do something to start building trust again. Doing ground exercises with your horse can often aid in getting some of that confidence back. Do simple obstacles such as walking around cones or barrels, walking over ground poles or through a labyrinth. These exercises can very easily be transferred to mounted work. You should always work at your own speed and within your comfort zone, whether doing ground work or riding. Again, having a friend, family member or a professional helping you with these exercises is better than working alone.
Once you begin working your horse under saddle again you need to work on relaxing in the saddle. As a rider you are always telegraphing how you feel to your horse. Try just sitting on your horse and taking deep relaxing breaths as you would in a Yoga class. You will find that when your body relaxes so will your horse. When you feel you are tensing up while riding just take some deep breaths and relax. Don’t be afraid to take your time and do some ground exercises. Then ride in an arena or an enclosed area for a time - there is no shame in that. When you are comfortable and feeling confident again take a short trail ride with a friend, but again at your own speed.
You will find that the sooner you admit to yourself that you have lost your confidence and need help, the sooner you can work through the fear and get back to enjoying your horse again. Don’t let pride or fear (or both) rob you of your passion in life or of the special relationship that has grown over the years between you and your horse.